One of the most enduring techno and electro specialists on the planet, Dave Clarke pulls zero punches here, much like when he’s in the club.
A great DJ is someone who only cares about the music, not the ego, not the entourage, not the drugs, simple. To have your own sound and follow that, to not change for fashion but to create anti-fashion in a way, to have a heart and follow that. Aiming to please is the worst thing that has happened to DJs as much as politicians – by doing that you only represent your desire to have power and discard all integrity. The middle ground is a bullshit place, a place of emptiness and only self-interest, a place for reptilian chameleons that change colour to suit the environment so they don’t stand out and look non-threatening.
Good DJs do not give a shit about anything except principles – they are the ones I respect. Whether I like their music or not is immaterial in this regard.
The art hasn’t changed but the perception of it has. Those that can do it have adapted with new skill sets made available by technology, but the democratisation has lowered the entry tariff. Then add the fact that real reportage of fakery is almost non existent – it means the ‘art’ is perceived to be easy, as throwaway.
I never really read the room. I just come in and play music I like, but then I ride on the mood of the room.
Both technique and selection are paramount. A lot of DJs have got lazy and are more interested in showcasing their entourage and waving their hands in the air like egocentric, psychologically damaged teenagers.
You use what you will, you create with what you want and you are an artist –the moment you worry about others in this regard you are a shadow, an empty vessel. Some DJs copy the exact setup of others, when not using decks, and create a pastiche, a weak version of a photocopy. Good DJs do not give a shit about anything except principles – they are the ones I respect. Whether I like their music or not is immaterial in this regard.
The EDM guys present themselves as clowns, argue who is spending the most on pyro displays and the crowds sing along with Celine Dion. Utter shite. Complete denigration of dance music as we know it – no disrespect to Celine. Fame these days buys you more hype than your ability, even when skill is little or non existent. There are only a few really famous DJs that still can pump it, bring balls of energy and challenge music, otherwise it is just a puff of fart inflated by a PR machine fed by money.
Residents, the unsung hero of the whole scene, are completely put aside by the ever-expanding festival scene. They used to be the tape ops of their day, low paid and a few lucky enough to start headlining. Now very few of them have the same roads available to them. The art of the resident is to understand the club and the DJ after them and build, not suck the air out of the room before the headliner comes along. A good resident should be celebrated – it is the salad before the main course that makes you hungry, it isn’t an 800 gram steak cooked until cremated then along comes some delicate sea bass, if you catch my drift?
Some coke addicted managers, they try to do the Napoleonic divide and conquer, and when certain DJs hide behind this I lose all respect for them as an artist. To me they become a weak piss stain devoid of backbone. Also, if a DJ tries to dictate how you should play your last ten minutes then that is a big disrespect. When a DJ asks me how they should finish before me I say “as you please”. This is their time. Respect others’ art.
For me, John Peel is the best DJ as he played from his heart all the time. Jeff Mills was a big inspiration for me in the techno club scene. For house that would be Derrick Carter or DJ Heather. For hip-hop that would be Red Alert or Kool DJ Herc. For recent radio I would say Jarvis Cocker. For absolute do-not-give-a-shit and follow your own beliefs I would say Andrew Weatherall. I love the sound of lots of DJs. Did I mention Laurent Garnier? I could go on and on.
He’s done it on Radio 1, he’s done it on main stages at festivals around the world, he’s done it in dark, dank basements…
The 'true art' of the DJ is a meaningless construct invented by the media and the limits of our language, if you don't mind me saying. But it's still fun to talk about.
Nobody really knows the answer to what makes a great DJ. Aim to please? Of course. But that doesn’t mean the pleasure has to happen right there and then. It’s a subjective thing and there are always complications. The answer comes down to your mood at the time, and of course you have different moods, different levels of tiredness or energy or drunkenness, whether you’re with a group of people, whether they’re your friends or not, whether you’re on your ones.
Some sets are great to hear and watch by yourself in the crowd – you can really get lost in them. Other sets or types of music are more social. Watching dancehall by yourself is shit, although generally the crowd might be a bit more open to talking to a stranger. Sometimes I’ve just been in the mood for, I dunno, some real straight 4×4 house and techno, blended long and fluid and seamless – other times I think that’s boring as hell. The ‘true art’ of the DJ is a meaningless construct invented by the media and the limits of our language, if you don’t mind me saying. But it’s still fun to talk about.
I’m not sure the technical aspect has changed that much. Scratch DJs are out of fashion for the moment I guess, but that’ll come around again. In fact that’s one thing that’s surprised me with the whole ‘vinyl is cool again’ thing. I guess because it takes fuckloads of practice and talent rather than just buying records that are recommended to you. End of the day, DJing is patching sounds together in a way that’s personal to you, so it’s massively limited. If you were conducting the London Philharmonic at the same time as sculpting some Greek urns or something on two Technics pottery wheels, it wouldn’t be DJing.
But the selection has massively changed. The selection of records open to a DJ in 2015 is mind-bending. And that’s completely for better and for worse. For a raver or podcast fan or whatever, the DJ is still important because they are the filter for all the shit that’s out there, there’s a certain level of trust, blah blah blah… But on the other hand there are so many DJs, it’s almost the same situation again. So there are other filters, like certain nights or certain clubs or certain stations, that do that filtering of DJs for you.
The power of a track that people literally can't stay still to shouldn't be denied. It's a thing.
In my eyes, reading the room can be something as little as playing a record that’s going down really well for a little longer, or vice versa. I think looking like you’re enjoying yourself, or at least like you want to be at the club, comes into it to an extent. Making eye contact with people.
I’m kinda jealous of the cunts that obviously love their music, but that music is always what the crowds want to hear, you know? But tastes change, and sometimes after liking a track but then seeing the damage it does on the floor, you then love it. The power of a track that people literally can’t stay still to shouldn’t be denied. It’s a thing. But with the amount of music out there ready to be played, if you can’t find a massive selection of sounds that you love that would suit different types of crowds, you’re in the wrong job.